#HHBA 2016 : rebooting journalism for real

What you’re going to bring back from here isn’t clear. There are going to be many sessions, during those three days, so don’t worry too much about not being able to grasp everything. Take time to sit in the sun. Because, maybe, the thing you’re going to bring back home with you most is the people you’ve met.”

So spoke @runixo, or Martin Sarsale, as you prefer, as Hacks Hackers Buenos Aires was opening its Media Party 2016 in the Konex center, one Thursday morning the 25th of August. I kept his words in mind during the three days that would follow, feeling this was the best advice I ever heard in that kind of event.

Coming from France, I had been digging into datajournalism field at my news wire for more or less two years. Since january 2016, I was dedicating one day every week to transverse data investigations, giving me the opportunity to take some distance from my speciality on corporate environment and transparency news. My 5 people team and I, however, did not have much experience with data analysis. The Argentina media party was hence the perfect opportunity to meet other datajournalism geeks and gain from their experience.

As far as meeting people goes, the Argentina media party wouldn’t disappoint me. In the middle of the entrepreneur’s fare that was organized on the first day, I had an inspiring conversation with Ricardo, who had been a systems engineer at Argentinian newspaper la Nacion for 22 years. He told me how enthusiastic he was now to dive into the scrapping for journalism routine, reaping data every week from 200 official sources like the central bank, or the daily official bulletin.

But Ricardo was not the only one. Just next to him were bright American folks from Open news, and a few steps further stood the founders of the innovative “Ojo publico” from Peru. Twitter admired stars were at hand’s lentgh.

A colourful energy lingered on the air. As far as skills learning, every workshop meant a step ahead for me. As the event was designed to be very hands-on and productive, I found myself in the corner of a purple concrete building struggling with regular expressions, an obligatory step for every datajournalist, and digging into the Panama Papers with Neo4j looking for Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri or socker player Lionel Messi.

At some point though, I felt lost, confused amongst so many creative and talented people. Was I going the right way ? Had I chosen the right workshop ? Would I remember anything once on the plane ? How long would it take me to learn to code ? And all the scraping, datamining, visualization tricks ? Wouldn’t it be too much? I had already invested so much energy in that field, and yet there was so much more to learn.

Also there were organisational issues pending : how to convince my boss back home, and find an effective media structure for the needs of today and tomorrow’s readers? I had come to the event on my own during my summer holidays, taking advantage of a Mozila foundation travel scholarship that paid half of the trip and the presence of my family in Argentina. But now was I doubting about what this whole effort would end up in.

Keynotes had showed me the vast possibilities to explore, in order to convey stories : virtual reality, games, collaboration with artists, developers, designers and local communities, and sometimes just simple, bold but powerful means, like mobile texting. What would I be finally able to do with all I saw in Buenos Aires ?

But then some other words @runixo had pronounced at the opening speech came back to me and eased my soul :

“What we all here have in common is that we’re not sure about the reason why we came. But we did, because it woke up some curiousity in ourselves”

It felt so true.

In several occasions, I found myself sitting at a table with people I didn’t previously know, trying to set up a project from scratch, as I experienced during the last day’s hackathon.

What I did not expect, was the positive outcome of the “creative chaos” of the event, as its organizers would call it, and the long-term confidence it would generate. The thing is, the place was full of people from all over the world who just didn’t care if their project seemed realistic or not to others, and had launched it, transforming very rapidly an idea into innovative media initiatives.

Starting a brand new investigative and hacking media, obviously, didn’t happen to me when I came back to France. But surreptitiously, things kept on moving. I proposed to develop some app at my news wire, which we’re beginning to work on. A journo friend suggested we could incentivise each other by having a regular motivational meeting on our data work. Another one asked if I could replace him at a 2 days teaching data workshop for beginners.

And I felt that maybe, explaining it to others would be a good way for me to consolidate what I knew. But mostly, I could openly speak to my boss about my (yet immature) project to take some months off in order to intensively learn coding, and I knew that no matter how, rebooted journalism would make its way.

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